Coping with Re-Entry Anxiety
Updated: Jul 7, 2021
Anyone feeling a little more anxious lately but not really sure why? It seems a little paradoxical when we keep hearing good news in areas related to COVID. Rates of new cases have been falling, while numbers in vaccinations are rising. Restrictions are being lifted, leading to people socializing and traveling more. So with these markers of brighter times ahead, why are feelings of worry and dread still present?
If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. The feeling is so prevalent right now, the term re-entry anxiety has become a common part of our everyday language. And it does make sense, when we stop and think about it. For one, the CDC’s latest recommendations seem an about face to the kind of everyday living that we cultivated over the last year, and for most of us, abrupt change is always going to be hard.
After what we’ve experienced, there are bound to be complicated emotions involved as we begin to move forward.
After what we’ve experienced, there are bound to be complicated emotions involved as we begin to move forward. You may be feeling excited to see friends and family in person again, yet overwhelmed by the sudden increase in activity. You may also be feeling safer than you have in a long while from getting vaccinated yet still worried about your young children or anxious about variants and news in other countries. And that’s ok. All of it is ok.
Let’s pause and take into account the effects of a year of pandemic living. COVID-19 brought with it a very clear and present threat to our health and safety. One way to describe trauma is the perceived threat to one’s life while feeling helpless or powerless to do anything about it. Through the lens of this definition, we can view the past year as one long prolonged and collective trauma. And living under a state of trauma or extreme anxiety like this for an extended period of time heightens our nervous system, meaning we are triggered more easily and thus feel stressed and anxious more frequently and more intensely.
In addition, our thresholds for tolerating stress and anxiety have been lowered from living in isolation so long with limited stimulation. Most of us have been at home in spaces that are (hopefully) safe and comforting. We haven’t had to face the daily stressors of morning commutes and afternoon rush hours. We haven’t had to interact as much with the minor annoyances of office politics or unexpected interruptions from co-workers. We haven't had to rush from work to school to extra activities for our kids to social engagements for ourselves. All of which takes a significant amount of mental and physical energy throughout the day to respond to.
This combination of extreme anxiety from the last year with our current lowered levels of stress tolerance can lead us to feel completely exhausted from even the simplest outings. With this in mind, it makes sense that you may not feel ready to go back into the office again. It makes sense that you’re not ready to fill your social calendar right away. Many of us are simply not ready for the constant state of busyness and movement of our pre-pandemic lives. And again, that’s ok.
All of this will simply take time for us to process, time for us to unwind.
All of this will simply take time for us to process, time for us to unwind. We’ve been experiencing the effects of pandemic living for over a year now, and it will take about the same amount of time, if not longer, for us to fully rest, recover, and heal.
How to Respond to Re-entry Anxiety
Take It Slow
In the meantime, take it slow. I see this as the key to transitioning through this time with more ease. Some simple steps to taking it slow include:
Allow yourself to move at your own pace: Try to refrain from comparisons to what other people are doing. We are all different and are thus going to respond to this time differently. Stop and observe how you are feeling with increased levels of activity and respond with what feels best for you.
Do what feels comfortable for you and your family: Know it's ok to say "No" to others' requests and invitations. Setting boundaries on your time and schedule is a way to protect and preserve your energy and is thus an act of care.
Set realistic expectations for yourself: You don't have to do everything at once. It's ok to add back activities slowly. Doing so allows for the space to both check in with how you are feeling in the moment and respond accordingly with what you need.
Show yourself some compassion: We can do this by validating our experience - It makes sense that I'm feeling this way. By recognizing what we've been through - Of course I feel this way after all I've been through. And by honoring what we were able to do despite everything going on - And I still took care of my kids, went to work, kept my family safe, got out of bed, etc.
We won’t be able to do all we were able to in our previous lives right away. Maybe we never will. And that’s ok. By slowing down and moving with intention, maybe we'll find a new way of living and being in the world post-pandemic that's more conducive to our overall well-being.
Stop, Breathe, Appreciate
Lately when feeling overwhelmed, I’ve been using the practice Stop, Breathe, Appreciate. It looks a little something like this:
Stop: Pause and bring your attention to the present.
Breathe: Take a deep breath, noticing the feeling of the breath in your body.
Appreciate: Focus your attention on something in your present experience that you are grateful for.
By doing this practice, we’re breaking the cycle of worry and rumination. Stopping to breathe, brings our attention out of our heads and the downward spiral of rumination and into the present. By then focusing our attention on something we appreciate in the present moment, we begin to widen our perspective to include what we already have going well for us. In creating this balance of perspective, the mind is more apt to envision good things to come in the future. In addition, we also begin to cultivate a both and mindset, thus better enabling us to hold space for and honor all of the complicated emotions that may be present with re-entry.
Looking for support and new ideas for how to respond to re-entry anxiety? HeartSpace Wellness Studio has multiple offerings to help.
Individual Art Therapy Sessions
Work with Catherine one on one to learn different practices in art making, mindfulness, yoga, and self-compassion to help find ease when anxiety is present.
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Pay What You Can/Suggested Donation $20
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Mindfulness in the Workplace
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